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“Human speech does not sound human,” and other evolutionary psychology claims

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Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man

In “A Sound Check For the Ages” (Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2011), Daniel J. Levitin, reviewing Mark Changizi’s Harnessed (which proposes to explain the origin of music and language), comments ,

To bolster his claim that speech sounds like colliding objects, he writes: “Human speech does not sound human.” Yet this is starkly contradicted by a seminal study in 2000, in which Pascal Belin found that a region of the brain (the upper bank of the superior temporal sulcus) responds selectively to sounds made by humans, such as speech, laughs, cries and sighs, but not to environmental sounds or the sounds of nature. The sounds of “humanness” are specifically encoded in the brain.

Most of “Harnessed” is devoted to discussing the origins of the sounds we make, but that is far from the most interesting part of the story. To use language and music, humans needed to evolve brain mechanisms for symbolic manipulation and representation (to speak of things that are not there, to be able to talk about anger without feeling anger), and mechanisms for recursion (the ability to string together words or musical phrases in new and meaningful ways).

Mr. Changizi focuses instead on what his own suppositions tell him. Where does music come from? Let’s look, he says, at the visual system, because we evolved in a world where visual and auditory events interacted. But look where?

Asking questions like that and bringing up facts, this guy Levitin is expressing a dangerous form of disloyalty to pop Darwinism.

He mentions that Darwin thought that music aided sexual selection. In which case, should we expect that musicians generally have larger families than others? Or ever did?

One Reply to ““Human speech does not sound human,” and other evolutionary psychology claims

  1. 1
    paragwinn says:

    Mark Changizi’s Harvest

    The book being reviewed is titled “Harnessed”.

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